April 01, 1998

Buying Real Vodka (Safely)

Russians boast that their high-quality vodka (made from rye or wheat and not, as many believe, from potatoes) is the best in the world. (Actually, they say that anything produced outside of Russia is not the real thing.) And they could well be right. Real Russian vodka has no color, no characteristic odor and no taste. And real Russian vodka won’t give you a hangover the next morning unless it is consumed in insane proportions.

But the problem is finding this strange drink – “real Russian vodka.” According to recent statistics cited in Vitrina magazine, over half of Russia’s vodka industry is in the sphere of the shadow economy. Bootleggers turn out ton after ton of dubious liquid bottled as popular brands like Stolichnaya or Moskovskaya. This brew is often made from synthetic spirits, which are both dangerous and undetectable in terms of smell and taste. In some cases, it is even made from things like watered-down aftershave or jet fuel.

Along with the vodka itself, bootleggers have perfected the art of faking the accessories – bottles, excise stamps, labels. In a desperate attempt to compete, many legal vodka distillers have developed elaborate corporate bottles and labels in the hopes that such measures will make their product difficult or unprofitable to fake. However, no bottle, however sophisticated, can prevent bootleggers from simply collecting empties and refilling them.

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